A locally built Iranian passenger plane crashed shortly after takeoff in Tehran today, killing 39 people and reviving questions about the safety of a cash-strapped aviation sector left hobbled by international sanctions.
President Hassan Rouhani offered his condolences to victims' families and quickly ordered an investigation into the crash. Similar planes operated by Iranian carriers will be grounded until the probe is complete, he directed.
The plane was based on a relatively obscure Ukrainian design that has been involved in previous Iranian air disasters.
The Sepahan Air regional airliner, bound for the eastern town of Tabas, went down in a residential area shortly after takeoff at 9:20 am from Tehran's Mehrabad airport.
State TV said the plane's tail struck the cables of an electricity tower before it hit the ground and burst into flames.
The official IRNA news agency said the plane suffered an engine failure. Whatever the ultimate cause, quick thinking by the pilot may have saved some lives.
"We should be thankful to God that the pilot did all he could to steer the plane away from residential buildings and fortunately did not crash into them. Otherwise, we would have been dealing with a much worse crisis," said Jalal Maleki, spokesman of Tehran's Fire Department.
Known as an IrAn-140 or Iran-140, the twin-engine turboprop is a version of the Antonov An-140 regional plane and is assembled under license in Iran. It can carry up to 52 passengers.
A Ukranian-made An-140 crashed near the central Iranian city of Isfahan in 2002, killing 46 mostly Ukranian and Russian experts travelling to witness the maiden flight of the Iranian-built version of the plane.
A similar Iranian-made version crashed during a training flight in Isfahan in February 2009, killing five onboard, according to a report by state-run Press TV at the time.
Iranian airlines, including those run by the state, are chronically strapped for cash, rely on aging planes and have a spotty maintenance record.
While some operate Boeing and Airbus models, spare parts for Western-made planes are often hard to come by largely because of sanctions aimed at Iran's nuclear program.
Those difficulties have left Iranian airlines increasingly reliant on planes developed by the Soviet Union and its successor states, though parts for aging Soviet-era planes can also be tough to get.